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Oldies but Goodies: Psychonauts
The idea that there are gamers out there who have yet to play the 2005 masterpiece Psychonauts utterly baffles me. When I think or talk about how a game can be done right, Psychonauts always comes to mind. I’ve played, replayed, watched other people play, and had dreams about this game. It won awards, and plenty of people know what it is, but for some reason it seems as though the number of people who have actually PLAYED the game is painfully low.
What really makes Psychonauts stand out is the attention to story and characters, a trait that has since become a staple in Doublefine games. Razputin is a charismatically quirky leading man (or leading child, I suppose) who is a constant joy to be playing as. He also serves as an excellent comedic straight man to his teachers, friends, and enemies as they take part in (often ludicrous) dialogue sequences that still somehow manage to advance the plot and flesh out the reality and context of a world that probably shouldn’t make any sense.
Story aside, the gameplay, too, can stand on its own. It is exciting and refreshing- mind powers and puzzles and enemies just as marvelously absurd as everything else in the game. A personal favorite feature of mine is… well you’re just going to have to play the game to figure that one out. I find that it’s far more exciting to witness Psychonauts in real time than to have it all spoiled for you. However, one non-spoiler feature I enjoy immensely is the distinct, almost Tim Burton-esque art style. In fact- TIM Schafer… TIM Burton… dark, freaky comedy style…
A lot of the beauty of Psychonauts is in its pacing. You learn to navigate the crazy world at the same speed as Raz- as he grows, so do you. This helps the player to form a strong bond with him. Schafer also did a great job of making the characters that Raz becomes friends with ACTUALLY LIKEABLE, an issue that many game and even filmmakers struggle with (I’m looking at you, Jar-Jar). From a gameplay standpoint, there’s the rewarding feeling of learning to use new skills or landing that tricky jump that accompanies most good platformers, but with justification for newbie mistakes because (unlike Ezio or Batman or whoever), as a kid, Raz isn’t really expected to pull off any of those crazy acrobatics on his first try.
Psychonauts is old, but stands up visually largely because it’s so odd in its style that design limitations blend in with artistic choices pretty seamlessly. GO. DO. BUY. LOVE.